Leytonstone News

Matalan pulls down shutters on Leytonstone store

The department store, which has operated for over two decades, closed its doors for the final time at 5pm yesterday, reports Marco Marcelline

Matalan has traded for over 21 years in Leystonstone.

Shoppers bid Matalan’s Leytonstone store goodbye yesterday as it closed down for the final time. It comes after the retailer confirmed its closure plans in November.

Michelle, a customer who had been shopping at Matalan since it opened over 21 years ago, was looking for boots yesterday afternoon before the Leytonstone store shut its doors.

She said she was “very disappointed and upset” at its closure. “It’s the only clothing shop left in Leytonstone, at least in this area. We had a Peacocks down near to where Iceland is, that shut down. There was another private shop which also shut down. I used to love the checking the new fashions every year and the sales [Matalan] did.”

Michelle also complained about the distance of the nearest Matalan store, which is in Beckton: “It’s a hell of trek to get to by tube, it’s kind of remote.” She added that she didn’t know why the shop was closing down.

Janice, a shopper who popped into Matalan whenever she happened to be in the area, said its closure represented a wider trend of department stores closing. “You just need to look at Ilford. All the big shops that have shut down recently, and no-one can afford to take it over.

“This is the way everything is going. [Big business] wants everyone to shop online, and then when you’re a certain age, not everyone has access to go online.”

Two sales assistants, Saudah Alibhai and Tanzila Hoque, said their roles at Matalan Leytonstone were their first ever jobs. Tanzila said she felt sad because she “formed an attachment to this place” and had made friends.

Saudah, who had been at the store for over two years said: “There’s customers that have been coming here from the start. This store’s been open longer than [I’ve been alive]. There’s customers that come in here to get essentials like socks, underwear, and vests are very upset because [they’re thinking] where are we supposed to go? No-one goes to Tesco to get socks and stuff; you go there to get your groceries. There’s a lot of food shops here, and this is the main clothing shop. If there’s nothing here they’ll have to go to Westfield [Stratford]. Who wants to go to Westfield when it’s all packed and full.”

Saudah said she was going to accept the redunancy pay rather than be transferred to a new store. Only staff members who have been at Matalan for a minimum of two years are entitled to statutory redundancy pay. Tanzila, who joined six months ago, said she was “most likely” going to be transferred to the store in Dalston. She added that didn’t feel daunted by the prospect of joining a new store since she would be moving with current colleagues.

Manager Sandy Bhachu who has worked at Matalan for over two decades struggled to contain her emotions as she spoke to the Echo. “It’s really sad. We’ve known since November that it was to shut but we didn’t expect it to be so quick. We were expecting to remain open for at least a year.”

Asked if she knew what would happen to the site post-Matalan, Sandy said: “We’ve been told by management that [supermarket chain] ALDI, who own the site, want to open a new store here. M&S will move in too.” About “35” staff were employed at the store before it shut yesterday, Sandy added.

The closure comes amid a financially turbulent time for department stores across the UK. From 2019 to 2023/24, department store revenue is expected to have fallen at an average annual rate of 2.7% to £33.6 billion, according to research from IbisWorld. This is despite forecasted growth of 0.7% in 2023.

The pandemic particularly hit department stores hard, with Debenhams and House of Fraser being a major fatality. Staple John Lewis shut a total of 16 stores during the pandemic, while Marks & Spencer has closed dozens of its own stores as it seeks to prioritise more profitable branches.

Despite the tough economic climate, and the closure of several of its stores, Matalan did not have a particularly bruising 2023, with the retailer posting a total revenue of £288.6m for the 13 weeks to 26th August, an increase of 0.8% from £286.4m in 2022, Retail Week reports.

Unconfirmed rumours that ALDI will move in to the site have spread like wildfire on social media, despite no official word from the supermarket chain or Matalan. An ALDI spokesperson told the Echo that the chain was “unable to comment on speculation”.

Meanwhile, the soon-to-be-vacant site has already long been eyed by Waltham Forest Council as a potential site for flats. In its Local Plan regeneration document for Leytonstone, the council earmarked Matalan as a redevelopment spot as having potential for “c.190 homes” as well as “new retail, commercial, cultural space”. The retail store and the nearby McDonald’s are described in the document as having “eroded parts of the historic high street grain”. The council was contacted for comment.

For many decades, Bearmans, a historic department store that was frequently called the “Harrods of East London“, occupied the space that Matalan stands in until it closed in 1982. Its building was demolished two years later. It began in 1898 after being set up by a 27-year-old entrepreneur Frank Bearman and quickly flourished attracting thousands of loyal customers from across London and Essex.

Matalan did not respond to requests for comment.